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Lifetime dramatizes the life of Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas

By Rich Heldenfels
Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal

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  • The Gabby Douglas Story

    8 p.m. Saturday

    Lifetime



Since she captivated the world during her gold-medal performance at the 2012 Olympics, gymnast Gabby Douglas has had news both bad and good. On the good side, she published two books and got TV gigs like a reporting job for “Inside Edition” at this year’s Super Bowl. On the downside, she had to address stories about her father, who had not been in her life for years, and ludicrous debates about her hair.

But ups and downs were nothing new for the young star, as is clear in “The Gabby Douglas Story,” which premieres at 8 p.m. Saturday on Lifetime. The movie is one competitor’s story of determination to succeed in the games, the kind of thing we will hear a lot of beginning Feb. 6, when the early rounds of the Sochi games start. (The opening ceremonies are the following day.)

In a preview copy of the film, Douglas’ success at the Olympics is shown in a brief series of clips of the real Douglas and her family, so don’t come to this expecting tales of the Fierce Five women’s gymnastics team. Instead, it focuses on the years leading up to those moments, with Douglas played by Sydney Mikayla as a child and by Imani Hakim in her later years.

The movie shows young Gabby – full of energy and precocious talent – studying Olympian Shawn Johnson and deciding that she should work with Johnson’s coach, Liang Chow (played by Brian Tee). It shows her threaten to quit when she grows weary of training in Iowa while her family is in Virginia. It shows some mild conflict with other gymnasts in her early years, though not the degree of racism and bullying Douglas would later describe.

Even more, it tells the story of Natalie Hawkins (Regina King), who struggled to meet the enormous financial demands of a gymnastics career while bringing up Gabby and three other children. The movie shows her trying to be realistic, only to recognize that Gabby has a remarkable gift that should be used – even if that leads to sacrifices along the way. Nor is Hawkins the only one to offer emotional support; there are also Gabby’s siblings and Natalie’s mother (S. Epatha Merkerson).

We all know how the story ends – and, if you have paid much attention to stories about Douglas, the vignettes that are pasted together for this movie. The idea, of course, is to believe in dreams and then work hard to achieve them.

It may be fine for younger viewers, then. But older ones will find it slight dramatically, and impressive performers King and Merkerson have impressed more elsewhere.

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